Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Curious Case of Missing Singers

My dad had an old Murphy radio of the size of a largish attaché box which had every indications of a prized possession. My mother told me it was as old as my dad himself, yet, though it looked weathered with a tinge of sepia, this was more because of the various shades of natural brown colour it had rather than aging as it was excellently maintained in his technically gifted hands.

He also owned a sleek Sony radio-cum-tape-recorder duly smuggled from Nepal because the then lower middle class of India could not afford the import duty Indira Gandhi's regime required for Garibi Hatao of our political class. This one was primarily used for either playing Sholay dialog cassette or for enjoying Qawwali(s) he was fond of.

However, Murphy was used for pure radio pleasure. Whether it was Vividh Bharati or Radio Ceylon - there would be a childish glint in his eyes not just because of the nostalgia attached with it, but also the fact that likes of Rafi, Kishore, Lata, Hemant Kumar, Asha, Manna Dey and others made the experience well worth it. These melodious voices and together with the music would compulsorily wash away the day-end weariness from the silos and warehouses of the Food Corporation of India.

Collateral benefit, however, was happening to me. I was getting increasingly addicted to singers, music and radio. I would tune-in to radio all the time be it the morning Chitralok or its shorter evening version. I have listened to Cibaca Sangeetmala on Vividh Bharati, before that when it was Binaca Geetmala on Radio Ceylon till it finally became Colgate Cibaca Sangeetmala. I have heard many special episodes of Chitramala hosted by the likes of Raj Kapoor, Asha Bhosle, Lata Mangeshkar and others. At my college, the best use and the worst abuse of my roommate's walkie-talkie shaped transistor was done by me. Similarly, during my first year of stay in Pune, after the hard day in the office I invariably ended sleeping to the lullabisque melodies from Bela Ke Phool - the last Vividh Bharati program from the Pune studios.

Unfortunately, the song listening experience has taken a big plunge in last few years. It all started when Himesh Reshamiya started croaking his own songs thereby opening a door size of the Wagah Border for other music directors to unleash the terror of their respective vocal chords on not just the hapless ears but also on the psyche of the listeners.

As you surf through various channels, you might hear Ram Sampath trying the title song of Fukrey seemingly under the spell of acute laryngitis. Not long ago, Amit Trivedi made full use of his false vocal folds and virtually no use of his true vocal chords in the rendition of the songs of Kai Po Che. I literally had trouble even hearing some words, forget understanding. Vishal Dadlani is bearable when he is part of a chorus, but I wonder whatever possessed Ram Sampath to make him sing for Talaash. If a voice can be called constipated, it was his when he tried Jee Ley Zara. In fact, if you notice both Vishal-Shekhar can boast of flourishing alternate singing careers (if you judge by sheer count of songs they have sung) yet not having a single hummable song.

And that is the main problem. With time, melody has already gone from the music. Barring rare exceptions, poetry in cinema is almost extinct. Now, if the quality of voice goes as well, what will be there to listen and enjoy ? What will be the repeat value ? And this has almost become a racket because every music director is singing now - Pritam Chakraborty, Sajid-Wajid, Vishal Bhardwaj and God knows where would it end, or will it ?

It is not that music directors were not singing before. S.D. Burman had a unique voice but he used it sparingly like in Merey Sajan Hain Us Paar from Bandini. Hemant Kumar occasionally dabbled as a music director, but he had a haunting voice which puts you in a trance. R D Burman's voice was harsh, good for yodeling and had nice variations but he too used it sparingly and mostly for an impact. I liked the song Dhannon Ki Ankhon Mein for the brilliant movie Kitaab.

Narcissism got better of Bappi Da and Anu Malik where they started to sing most of their songs, but even though latter was an atrocious singer, Bappi Da could sing well, especially the Bangla songs. The Bambayi Nagariya from Nau Do Gyarah was sung really well. Honourable mention to the special song sung by Jatin (of Jatin-Lalit pair) - Rooth Ke Humsey Kabhi from Jo Jeeta Wahi Sikander. This one is very close to my heart. A R Rehman too does that occasionally.

But these cases were more of the exceptions than rule. Now we have a whole syndicate of music-directors doing this and when we don't have these people singing their songs, we will have some other singer singing either with a nasal twang or in a husky voice. In the name of a "different" voice, every voice we are getting is different, and awful. As if actors themselves singing was not enough torture for us.

I wonder what my dad would have felt if he was around. For me, I am planning to switch to instrumentals.